A ceramic Superman mug and a coffee tumbler
Tea or coffee? Hey, why not both?

Sanity Check: An Interview with Myself

Editor’s note: insert witty subheading here

A tall, black tumbler with “Dad Fuel” on the side dispenses piping hot coffee into Jonathan’s gullet. Jonathan swallows, then exhales. The man’s pupils focus on me. I’m greeted by a sleepy but contented smile. He’s ready to begin.

“Good morning,” he says, waving an open hand. The gesture isn’t much, but it’s sufficient. “Coffee is my lifeblood.”

I smile and nod at Jonathan, affirming the truth of his statement.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” I begin. My laptop is open and my fingers are bopping the keyboard like children playing hopscotch. “I imagine it wasn’t easy carving out time for an interview.”

“Does it strike you as weird?” Jonathan asks. “I mean, you’re me. And I’m you. We’re literally talking to ourselves.”

“Ourselves?” I ask, catching his mistake.

“Sorry, myself. I’m talking to myself.”

“It’s not unusual to have a bit of jitters before an interview. Don’t worry, I know a good editor.”

“I’ve often wondered what I would say in an interview,” Jonathan begins. He draws another sip of coffee—it’s a strong, black brew. We’re reclining at the dining room table in cushioned, low-back chairs. “Will I sound educated? Erudite? Pithy?”

“For now,” I reply, “let’s leave the questions to me.” Clearly Mr. Sulzbach needs directing. “How about we start with your daughter? You don’t mention her much in your blogs. Tell me what she’s like.”

Olivia, queen of the universe

Jonathan contemplates taking another sip of coffee. He’s mulling over the best way to approach the topic of his daughter.

“I don’t mention her much because she’s on our minds every moment of every day. Erica and I run ourselves ragged trying to keep pace. It’s a victory if Olivia’s asleep by 8 p.m. without having thrown a tantrum.”

“Kids,” I lament. My memory reaches back to Jonathan’s youth, a time when he swore that he would never get married. That liar! Not only did he marry, but his wife Erica is carrying their second child: Jack Henry, due July 2024.

“Olivia is clever but troubled,” he continues. “She does not enjoy food nor does she desire it. The kid barely eats anything. Until recently, she categorically refused to hold her bottle. She can, of course. But she’s so passive when it comes to feeding. Her multiple surgeries were a major setback.”

“How about her head shape?”

“Her head shape?” Jonathan asks.

“The helmet.”

“Oh, right! Her noggin is beautiful. Erica fought to get that helmet made correctly. We still have it somewhere in Olivia’s closet. It came with a mannequin head. Pretty creepy.”

“How old is she? Two and a half?”

“Yes, and she has redefined the Terrible Twos as the Terrorist Twos. Until recently, Olivia weaponized vomiting as a means to escape nap time. She would stick a finger in her throat, barf, and wait to be whisked away to the tub for a good scrubbing. My daughter relishes bath-time. She leveraged our love against us and rewarded herself with a treat.”

I draw a deep breath, impressed and horrified. Perhaps now is the time for a new topic.

Marriage, that dream within a dream

“You and Erica have been married for eight years,” I continue, fact-checking my notes as the words escape my lips.

“Eight years and change. It will be an even nine years in October.”

“Nine is an odd number,” I point out.

“So it is,” Jonathan muses. “Six of those years were glorious. Now Erica and I collapse into bed too tired to think, let alone cuddle. We used to recap each day. Now our days blur together.”

“Has parenthood driven a wedge between you? Splintered your resolve?”

“I’ve spent a few nights on the couch, if that’s what you’re asking,” he replies, missing the point. “Erica has difficulty getting comfortable thanks to her pregnant belly.”

“Your relationship,” I clarify. “What’s the state of your marriage?”

“It’s… legally binding? I don’t know what you mean. Erica and I are best friends. We wish we could have more time together without the distraction of parental responsibilities.”

“So nothing’s amiss?”

“We’re missing each other,” he answers glumly. He doesn’t seem to realize that children can destroy marriages. “We got married so that we could spend all of our time together. Now we have a few precious hours each night before passing out. Still, that’s more than nothing, so I’m grateful.”

“Fair enough,” I nod, understanding. “And if you didn’t have children? How would that affect your marriage?”

“Well, kids are kind of inevitable when a man loves a woman. You see—”

“No, no!” I interrupt, waving my hands emphatically. “I’m plenty disturbed knowing you’ve reproduced. I don’t need a Venn diagram.”

Jonathan blinks, then shrugs. “OK.”

Novel-writing and other delusions

At this point, I have to ask Jonathan for a cup of tea to stay awake. Admittedly, I’m losing interest in my subject. His life seems to lack flavor.

“Why tea?” he asks. “Coffee is better.”

“Tea,” I repeat. Such an impertinent fellow. “I am your more distinguished alter ego, so tea is appropriate. No sugar, please.”

With any luck, I’ll extract something useful before we wrap up. Maybe a quote or a paraphrase for the article’s subheading. So far, Jonathan hasn’t given me much.

“English breakfast tea, no sugar,” he confirms, offering an oversized Superman mug with steam rolling off the top. The mug has been in Jonathan’s possession since before college.

“I made a lot of Top Ramen and hot chocolate in that mug. Not at the same time,” he clarifies.

“So! Creative aspirations. Have you got any? Weren’t you working on a novel?”

“Yup, yup. The first draft is nearing completion. It’s a bit of a mess, but that’s to be expected. The second draft will be much better.”

“Will you self-publish or solicit your manuscript to one of the Big Five?” I ask. In the publishing world, these are the gatekeepers.

“I’ll send copies to the corporate cats and see who rejects me first. Most likely I’ll self-publish and nobody will ever hear about it. I’d love to get a few copies printed and donate them to the library. In the end, if people enjoy my work, that’s enough.”

“And you’re working on a game, is that correct? For the original Game Boy?”

“Mm, sort of. I’m making a demo game rather than a proper game. Development is new to me. I’m not sure if I have the know-how to craft a game that’s actually fun to play. So I want to see what’s possible before I commit untold years to a doomed project.”

“Not very optimistic, are you?”

“Optimism isn’t my strong suit, no,” he laughs. “But the indie scene has exploded, so who knows?”

The valley of the shadow of death

My tea is nearly finished, though calling it “tea” is like calling Taco Bell fine Mexican dining. Jonathan has been rambling about game development for the last twenty minutes. I nod my head, waiting for a lull in his thoughts.

“That’s what I want to do, in a nutshell,” Jonathan concludes. Some nutshell. More like an ostrich egg.

“Let’s hear a bit about Spokane Valley,” I suggest, adjusting the seat cushion. My legs have fallen asleep. “Describe the transition from the west side to the east side.”

“In early 2022, we picked up and left Mill Creek so fast that we gave ourselves whiplash.”

“Some of your friends didn’t even know you were gone.”

“Like I said, whiplash. We couldn’t afford to stay in Mill Creek, or any part of western Washington. Not if we wanted to be within driving distance of care providers. Since Erica’s family lives in Spokane Valley, moving made family sense and financial sense.”

“How have you adjusted?”

“Two years in, I still miss the west side. My family especially. I thought it would be nice to escape the rain, but no. My skin is parched and my toenails snap like peanut brittle.”

“Your toenails?”

“Hey, you asked.”

True. I press on, hopeful that we’re nearing the end.

“Spokane Valley has been good for Olivia though. She gets to stay over at grandma’s house almost weekly and has access to care we couldn’t get otherwise. In our first year, Olivia befriended a sickly gentleman named Mike who lived two floors down. His wife summoned us to Mike’s bedside shortly before he died. I spoke with him about the afterlife, but it was Olivia’s presence that gave him comfort. She had a tube in her nose at that point. The two of them were kindred souls.”

“Perhaps the Sulzbachs moved to where they were needed,” I offer.

“Perhaps,” he nods. “These have been the most difficult two and a half years of our married lives. But difficult doesn’t mean bad, nor does it mean forsaken. God has been faithful throughout Olivia’s trauma. Our hearts and minds are being reshaped daily as the ugliness of our selfishness gets chipped away. We’re beyond exhausted, but Erica and I are closer now than we’ve ever been. Strange how that works, no?”

“Not so strange to me,” I answer. God is good.

And then there were four

Jonathan takes a final sip of coffee from his tumbler. It’s empty now. I rifle through my notepad one last time, making sure I’ve covered everything.

“Jack Henry,” I whisper, a smile on my lips. “We touched on this briefly, but you’re going to have a son! When’s he due again?”

“The end of July,” Jonathan beams. “After we learned that we’d be having a boy, the name Jack became a placeholder. It’s short for Jonathan, though I didn’t want to burden my child with Roman numerals. Ultimately it stuck. As for Henry, I think it’s a strong, masculine name. Erica likes it, too. It means honorable ruler or ruler of the home. The fact that it’s also my favorite blend of coffee is a happy coincidence.”

“Does the name Jack Henry have any relation to John Henry? The folk hero?”

“Born with a hammer in his hand,” Jonathan sings off-key. “I’ve loved the character of John Henry ever since seeing Tall Tale. It’s not a great film, but it meant a lot to me when I was a kid. Also, my dad rented Roots around the same time. Talk about swimming in opposite ends of the pool.”

“Olivia, queen of the universe, and Jack Henry, the steel-driving man,” I summarize. “You’re going to have your hands full.”

“Don’t I know it?” he laughs. Although the day has hardly begun, Jonathan looks beat.

My legs tingle as I stand up. “Thanks again for carving out time to talk. This has been a weird but illuminating experience.”

“My pleasure,” Jonathan nods. We shake hands. “You said you’ll edit this so I sound intelligent, right?”

“I’m not a miracle-worker, but I’ll do my best,” I promise. “Farewell.”


As I leave, I trip and fall over one of Olivia’s toys.

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